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Commentary: How side hustles like dog ferrying can become a meaningful full-time job

Demand is soaring for pet transport services, with a one-way trip from New York to Denver now costing almost US$1,000. This creates a new job market for those who wish to earn a decent income while spending time with loved ones.

NEW YORK: Last month I confronted a doggy dilemma. My daughters and I unexpectedly had to fly to Denver for a long period, leaving our beloved golden retriever behind in New York.

We were desperate to have Charlie with us. Pets, after all, are a comfort at times of stress and this was unfortunately one of those times. But I did not relish returning to New York to make the 26-hour drive to ferry her to Denver and there were no sensible flying options.

“Get someone else to drive her. There’s got to be an app for that,” a friend suggested. I was dubious: Sure, I use apps to book taxis, dinner and flights, but it had never occurred to me I could ferry a dog at short notice, like a pizza.

But I duly tapped it into my phone, discovered a site called CitizenShipper and three days — and US$825 — later, Charlie arrived in Denver in the car of a dog-loving millennial couple. My daughters were so overjoyed that I swallowed the steep cost (and additional US$159 brokerage fee).

The dog-movers were delighted too. They cheerfully explained that they had started performing this service as an occasional side hustle, but demand had soared so dramatically during the pandemic that dog ferrying was now their main source of income.

“We love it,” said Robert, the driver, explaining that his wife had given birth six months ago and they had discovered that ferrying dogs around was a way for them both to spend quality time with their new offspring, while also getting paid.

It is a trivial tale. But it underscores a key theme of our age: Digitisation and the pandemic are turning many of us into the cyber equivalent of hunter-gatherers, scavenging for income and services in novel ways.


Think about it. In recent years, there has been a flurry of debate about how digitisation is wiping out jobs. No wonder: A widely cited 2013 Oxford Martin School study suggested that as many as half of existing roles could be automated over the next couple of decades.

That sounds scary. But what is often ignored is that digitisation is creating jobs too.

The speed and scale is tough to measure: While the jobs being eliminated tend to be attached to institutions (and thus easy to count), the jobs being created are often “gig” posts, or those linked to non-traditional, short-term and contract work.

But the data that are available are striking. A Survey of Household Economics and Decision-making carried out by the Federal Reserve found that, in 2020-21, 27 per cent of adults earned some money from gigs and 8 per cent were regular gig workers, spending 20 or more hours on gigs.

Most of these workers are young, relatively poor and non-white. A survey issued by Pew Research Center last month, for example, found that, while 30 per cent of those under 30 have done gig work, in older age groups it was half this number.

And while 30 per cent of Hispanics have done gig work, far fewer white Americans have. Most significantly, just a tenth of wealthy Americans are gig workers, compared with a quarter of those who are poorer.

The focus of such work fluctuates, as demand for services shifts: During the pandemic a quarter of all gig workers saw income soar, while another quarter saw it decline.

But nobody expects such gig work to disappear soon; on the contrary, the pandemic has almost certainly left it more deep rooted.

A gig economy ridersfor app-based meal delivery platform Deliveroo takes part in a demonstration, near the company headquarters in London, Wednesday, April 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, File)

Is this a good thing? Leftwing economists might howl “no”, given that gig work is not just insecure and lacking in benefits, but often less well compensated than traditional forms of employment.

Many free-market economists, however, might argue that gig work’s lack of fixed structure is precisely what makes it so vibrant and innovative, and thus able to adapt to changing patterns of demand.


Some gig workers would also say they like the freedom it can bring, if they are fairly compensated and treated by the tech platforms (which is a big “if”).

As the moral debate around gig work continues, it is interesting to consider our concept of work. In the 20th century, it was widely assumed that a job was separate from one’s home and social life; temporal and spatial boundaries existed between work and everything else.

However, as the evolutionary anthropologist Joseph Henrich has observed, many traits that westerners consider normal are actually abnormal by the wider standards of history:

Hunter-gatherers, peasant farmers and almost anyone else outside the modern western world have had fluid boundaries between work and family. To them it is the idea of “nine-to-five” that seems weird.

What the 21st-century gig economy is doing is essentially tossing people back to the future. For someone like Robert, with a dog and a baby in the car, the boundaries between home and work, or family and colleagues, have become fluid.

The rise of working from home during the pandemic has blurred them further, even for people doing more traditional forms of work. This might sound terrifying. But for some people — and their dogs — it has been liberating too.

Source: Financial Times/ep


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